Southern Voices: Peter Dale of Condor Chocolate and The National, Athens, GA
By Stephanie Burt, The Southern Fork
To Chef Peter Dale, Athens, Ga. has always been home, so his seasons have always been affected by the University of Georgia and its school calendar. As a child, Peter’s father worked at UGA as a professor of poultry science, and now, with two culinary businesses -- The National restaurant and Condor Chocolates, a business he shares with his brother Nick -- the chef still feels the ebb and tide of the school’s seasons.
So it’s only fitting that UGA is his earliest memory of pecans, the iconic Georgia staple. When Peter occasionally got the chance to accompany his father to work, it was to a more open and formerly rural part of the UGA campus, where the chicken houses stood, surrounded by pecan trees.
“I was a city kid, meaning I didn’t grow up on a farm, so the idea of finding food like the pecans, finding it among us, was amazing to me as a child,” he remembers. He’d stomp on the shells to crack them open, and snack on the nuts as he puttered about, and although those trees are now gone -- the UGA Visitor’s Center stands in their spot -- the idea of the surprising deliciousness of the pecan still remains.
He comes by chocolate naturally too since his mother is from Ecuador, one of the world’s leading cacao producers, and Dale says that there’s a reason that pecans and chocolate are such a natural pairing: “Dark chocolate can have a lot of tannins, a lot of bitterness, so the fat in the pecans rounds that out. The combo coats the whole palate and is creamy with a little crunch.”
Although tempering chocolate at home can be challenging, chocolate barks are an easy way to ensure success and get your chocolate and pecan fix. “I love recipes that I can follow directly, but also provide lots of options as a road map for the more adventurous,” he says. Therefore, once you’ve followed this recipe and learned the proportions of crunchy to sweet to salty, play and make it your own. Just start with pecans and good chocolate, and the results will be delicious.
Dark Chocolate Bark with Pecans, Blueberries and Cocoa Nibs
Chef’s note: “While I love a ripe Georgia peach, the Peach State actually grows more blueberries these days. I love all the contrasts in this bark: rich chocolate, nutty toasted pecans, sweet blueberries, crunchy cocoa nibs and small bursts of sea salt.”
1 cup Schermer pecan pieces
1 lb (16 oz) dark chocolate, chopped (alternately, use dark chocolate chips)
1 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup cocoa nibs
coarse sea salt for sprinkling